CUMMING, Ga. — If you were looking for a storybook, win-one-for-the-Gipper type tale during Newton’s first round Class AAAAAAA playoff game with West Forsyth Friday night, you’d have come away from this one disappointed.
Newton fell 35-3 to the Wolverines in a game that seemed to display about everything that has gone wrong in the Rams’ season throughout the course of the season. Everything from poor discipline resulting and penalties and turnovers down to missed moments with short-hopped throws, dropped passes and missed assignments that relegated potentially big plays to non-factors.
Nevertheless, the Rams taught us some things in their last game of the season. Here’s five lessons we learned.
1. You don’t have to be flashy to be good. We thought there would be a chance that Newton could take advantage of having the speed and athleticism advantage against a well-disciplined West Forsyth squad. However, West Forsyth, for whatever we may have thought it lacked in athleticism, more than made up for it in soundness of execution and being well-coached. Running back Saxby Waxer came into this game averaging just a little over five yards per carry. You wouldn’t think that he’d be a game breaker, but with five yards here, seven yards there, a 21-yard touchdown and a few other moderate gains, the senior ended up with 141 yards and two scores. Nothing that would make a top 10 Sportscenter highlights show, but when you’re trying to win football games, that isn’t the goal.
2. The trenches need shoring up in the offseason. That said, what was an unquestioned strength last year, seemed to be a bit of a weakness this year. Newton wasn’t nearly as strong in the trenches on either side of the ball as it was during the 2017 campaign. Particularly in the Buford game and in this West Forsyth game, that showed up glaringly. Both Buford and West Forsyth had their way with Newton running the ball. The Rams got pushed around up front on the other side too, particularly tonight, as it gave up several quarterback sacks and didn’t do much to open holes for running back Adarius Thomas. Whether through strength training or player development, Newton will definitely go to work in pushing for stronger line play in the future.
3. Team discipline will either make you or break you. Coach Camiel Grant pointed to it. A play that really presented itself as a microcosm to the Rams’ season. While only down 14-3, Newton got off a major punt that would’ve given West Forsyth a long field for the first time all night. But a holding call negated it, pushed Newton back and forced a punt from out of its own end zone. The result? A West Forsyth touchdown in short order, thanks to a short field. Time and time again throughout this season, Newton shot itself in the foot with untimely penalties or poor execution on seemingly routine plays. Those things point back, often, to lack of discipline and concentration, and no matter how much talent you have, that talent can get negated by those kinds of errors.
4. It was a tough, but fitting way to end the season. What a difference a year makes. Last year, Newton played a Parkview team down to the wire, forced overtime, almost came away with an upset, and fell all over the football field in the aftermath with broken hearts. This year, it was almost like a relief that the season was over. Seniors were a bit somber, but many were shaking hands, passing out high fives and hugs to coaches and staff and even discussing college plans. This looked like a completely different team from the dominating spring game performance against Salem to now. And with all the ups and downs on and off the field, especially within the last two weeks, you could tell that pretty much everyone in the program was just ready to turn the page and put the 2018 campaign behind them.
5. This will be one of the most important off-seasons in recent Rams history. Now comes the interesting part. Newton hasn’t had to look for a coach in six years, as that was how long coach Terrance Banks has been there. Banks departed last Monday, Grant was promptly appointed as interim. The powers that be say they’ll post the job and accept resumes for it. But many around the program feel that the coach Newton needs to take the program to higher heights is already in place. Grant has expressed in no uncertain terms that he would like the opportunity to try his hand at leading the Rams on a permanent basis. He’s been around. He knows the school and the community, and he said he’s committed to making sure the no stone gets left unturned in evaluating what’s needed to push Newton football to the next level. Only time will tell whether or not Newton’s administration believes the search for the school’s new football coach is already over or just beginning.